Packers trying to ignore opening night fanfare
GREEN BAY Mike McCarthy has seen Kid Rock before, at the Green Bay Packers' private victory party following the Super Bowl.
"He's an outstanding entertainer," McCarthy said with a small smirk. "I could probably hear him from my office. That's probably as close as I'll get to the concert."
The Packers coach told his players Sunday that they need to ignore all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds kicking off the 2011 NFL season against the New Orleans Saints Thursday night at Lambeau Field and simply concentrate on preparing for the game.
While the pregame concert with Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum and Maroon 5 highlights a week of hoopla leading up to the game, players can't lose focus, McCarthy said.
"I think it's the highest compliment to your football team and your organization (to play in this game), but after the smoke clears and the celebration stops, it's a football game," McCarthy said. "This is a celebration for our fans. That's the way I look at it. I look forward to playing the Saints. This is the Packers versus the Saints. We're really focused on the game.
"We live in a small town, so it's a big deal. But really, our approach hasn't changed."
The game is a marquee matchup, pitting the NFL's two most recent Super Bowl champions against each other. Last year, the Saints opened the season with a 14-9 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at the Louisiana Superdome in a game that was a rematch of the NFC Championship Game from January 2010.
"The emotions are high, obviously. The NFL does a lot in and around the game with media and the entertainment and all the stuff," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters Sunday. "It's the kickoff to the season, so the fans and everybody are excited to start the season.
"(If) you're the defending Super Bowl champs, they're going to unveil the flag saying they're the champs. It's a special feeling. ... Every game (is big), especially the ones that are in prime time, but this one not only is that, but it kicks off the season and it's honoring you as being the Super Bowl champs from the year before."
Saints coach Sean Payton not only knows what the Packers are dealing with this week, he also knows what his team will be facing. Before the Saints played host to the Vikings in the league opener last year, they were the visitors in the 2007 season opener, when the champion Indianapolis Colts beat the Saints 41-10 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. The Saints started that year 0-4 and never recovered.
"We've experienced that from a home aspect standpoint, we've experienced it already as an away team," Payton said. "That first game always has that added excitement about it."
McCarthy's players said the coach made it clear to them Sunday that while it's an honor to be playing in the league's signature kickoff event, they must be as effective at blocking out the distractions as they were in the days leading up to their 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Feb. 6.
"He said it's going to be big, like the Super Bowl. Obviously not that level," veteran right guard Josh Sitton said. "And he said our responsibility is football. ... I think he knows he has a group of guys that he doesn't have to worry about the hoopla. It doesn't matter once it's kickoff. It's football. And I think we know that."
This marks the 10th year the NFL has had a "Kickoff celebration" to start the season, and it's the eighth straight year that the defending Super Bowl champions have opened up with a Thursday night primetime game at home.
For the concert and other events, a portion of Oneida Street — the road that runs between Lambeau Field and the team's indoor and outdoor practice facilities — has been closed to traffic. The league is also staging youth clinics and community events throughout the week in Green Bay.
A Packers spokesperson said Sunday that more than 500 press credentials have been issued for the game, including those issued to NBC, which will televise the game.
After seeing the offseason wiped out by a lockout caused by labor strife between NFL owners and the players, Packers quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers said he was happy for Packers fans, who'll get to experience a big-time event in the league's smallest market.
"It's great to be able to celebrate the return of football. It was a rough offseason with the lockout," said Rodgers, who along with Brees is on an enormous banner outside the nearby Resch Center arena. "The fans, I'm sure, were wondering if there was going to be football."